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VAK's Engagement with Water Issues > Introduction

Vikas Adhyayan Kendra (VAK) is a secular voluntary organisation established in 1981 to be an interface between Scholars, Academics and Social Activists; to initiate the process of social awakening through critical reflection and alternative discourse thereby contributing to strengthening people's struggles towards the goal of a just and more humane social order. VAK seeks to contribute to this process through the facilitation of a continuous dialogue and interaction between theoretical research and living experience of the people. Environment and ecology is one of the areas of concern that we look at and specifically Water under this head.

Market intervention aimed at establishing control over natural resources for profit posits a major paradigm shift in common sense perception, use and access to natural resources. This shift brings about rapid and tumultuous changes not only in social relations of human beings but also in relations of human beings within themselves and with nature. A number of inevitable results follow from this paradigm shift. Natural resources are transformed into raw material and further transformed into commodities. Through a value added process, these are then consumed ever more rapidly. The underlying assumption is that nature's resources are unlimited for human use. This is further bolstered by an anthropocentric cosmology and worldview that alter the original unity of the ecosystem and convert it into extractive and exploitative relationship that seeks to consume and subjugate nature to meet the market demand. This is then viewed as something "natural", with no thought for sustainability or renewability. Access to them is restricted and control over them is established by the market forces which are in conflict with nature's regeneration and people's survival. They thus become objects of trade and commodities with a price. This process of commercialization of natural resources deprives the socially and politically marginalized communities of their access to livelihood and sustenance.

Economic globalism has brought about quantitative and qualitative changes in the control and use of natural resources. The dramatic case is that of water privatisation. The World Water Council - made up of the World Bank, the water TNCs and development agencies of the North - through its Water Vision Statement, posits a paradigm shift from water as a "common good" to a "tradable" commodity. The water TNCs directly or indirectly, are plotting to control the world's dwindling water and natural resources by reshaping national policies, reframing national laws and changing institutional structures in Third World countries, to ensure their monopoly over the water market. Its use, supply and distribution is determined by the market principle of profit and perpetuates without question, the inequality in the access to water.

The water sector assumes a central role in World Bank's policy. For instances the Country Assistance Document 2005 illustrates how these Institutions consolidate their position and institutionalise control over the policy instrument in promoting reform oriented growth model by imposing conditionalities (of reforms and privatisation of key sectors) as the basis for extending lending - support to State and Central Governments. Through these strategies and with its privatisation policy the Bank is shaping India's current policy on natural resources and thus paving the way for water TNCs to take control over these natural resources.

This approach is in line with the "Second Generation" economic reform in the country characterized by a shift from trade in goods, to trade in services in compliance with the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) within the WTO regime.

Government of India concerned with the water crises in the country and in compliance with GATS agreement under pressure formulated National Water Policy, 2002.

The underlying policy assumption is that private sector participation will bring in the much needed financial resources, managerial skills and technology to the water service sector. These policy changes, as a solution to the water crisis, propose a model for water management that relinquishes all control over water resources particularly its distribution and utilization, to the private sector through commercialization and privatization of water resources. The institutionalization of this type of model will inevitably lead to the cartelization of India's fresh water resources and ecological devastation affecting the livelihood of rural communities and the urban poor entirely dependent on public utilities of water services by the State for their daily needs.

Priorities and concerns for social justice, equity, and sustainability or the environment have not, however, been reflected in the actual policy measures that the document puts forth. Further, the policy does not take into account factors like the fall in the water table and the deterioration of the quality of both surface and the ground water. It appears that all the problems related to this water crises are reduced to one remedy only namely privatization as the sole reason and solution.

The increased awareness of water scarcity and the privatization of dwindling natural resources have given rise to new social movements, initiated by the affected communities across the country. It is the major arena of struggle in the country today. The dimension of these new struggles have economic, ecological and social aims to protect livelihoods, defend basic rights and reject the commodification of water and water resources whilst safeguarding common heritage and natural resources against the onslaught of economic globalism. These struggles, by and large, are guided by a common ideological commitment that natural resources like water belong to the earth and all species for all time and must therefore continue to remain a common property resource. These struggles seek to reclaim the control of our common heritage for future generations and are also emerging as a major rallying point in defending the communities' right to water and life.

In January 2006, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra started the ground work on the mobilisation and awareness building exercise of the citizens of K-East Ward in Mumbai in reference to the proposed privatisation of water supply in the city of Mumbai.

We initiated the coming together of a group of like minded NGOs, community workers, people's organisations under the title of "Mumbai Paani". The work of the campaign is going on by this collective. Mumbai Paani has been able to put pressure on the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to revise the report presented by Castalia at the Second Stakeholder Consultation in June 2007 and call for another consultation to discuss the same. At the last stakeholder consultation held in November 2007, the MCGM introduced the 'Sujal Mumbai Abhiyaan' Plan for Mumbai city in which universal metering, telescopic tariff rates and prepaid water meters for the post 1995 slums has been suggested. The Standing Committee of the MCGM has approved the decision on universal metering and telescopic tariffs for water consumption, but is yet to approve the installation of prepaid water meters in the post 1995 slums.

Currently, the work of the group is focussed towards conducting awareness building exercises amongst other NGOs and people's organisations in Mumbai, for further dissemination in the communities and slums. Simultaneously we have been regularly filing for information on the said projects through the Right to Information Act. The group is also reviewing the recommendations in the Castalia Report with a small expert group for its technical, managerial, financial and legal implications. This would assist us planning for future mobilisation amongst the community to be able to tackle the issue.

Vikas Adhyayan Kendra
D-1 Shivdham, 62 Link Road, Malad (West), Mumbai 400 064 INDIA
Tel : 022-2882 2850 / 2889 8662. Fax : 022-2889 8941
E-mail: vak@bom3.vsnl.net.in